Among Israel’s most impressive achievements in thwarting assaults on its
internal stability in recent years has been the use of an old technology to
confront new threats. The completion of the 230-km. border fence with Egypt is
the latest achievement in this respect.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
declared Wednesday: “There has not been an engineering feat in Israel this large
since the days of Herod.” Brig.-Gen.
Eran Ofir, paraphrasing Zionist
leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, described the fence as an “iron wall.”
harking back to Herod the prime minister pays homage to other great barriers,
Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Britain, the Great Wall of China and Sebastian Vauban’s
“system” of fortresses designed to defend France in the 17th century.
Israel, the use of fences has been successful in preventing terrorists from the
West Bank reaching the main population centers and has also been used to effect
on the borders with the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
The latest section,
however, is intended not only to confront terrorists that may try to infiltrate
from a chaos-plagued Sinai, but also to put a stop to the migration from
In the past decade Israel became a destination country for
economic migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers from Africa. While some of these
people were bona fide refugees from the genocide in Darfur, many others were
economic migrants who, having reached Egypt and not finding opportunity, sought
a better life in Israel, or the possibility to make their way on to
Over time this African immigration became increasingly tragic and
grew exponentially, until it reached a peak of an estimated 2,300 illegal
entrants in January 2012. In December, only 36 people crossed illegally into
Israel from Sinai.
Under Hosni Mubarak the Egyptian government ordered
the shooting of migrants trying to cross into Israel, resulting in dozens of
deaths. The chaos following Mubarak’s departure in 2011 emboldened Sinai Beduin
to engage in a modern-day slave trade, in which people were enticed to leave
Sudan with promises of lucrative pay in Israel. Upon making it to Sinai they
were beaten, tortured and raped, while ransom was demanded from their families.
Those who were not murdered were dumped on the border with Israel.
put Israel is the unenviable position of needing to restrict the illegal
immigration of people who had suffered unspeakable abuse. Israel, in the midst
of social protests, did not foresee the problems that would result from the
60,000 migrants who made it here, and racially charged protests resulted in
south Tel Aviv neighborhoods where many of the migrants ended up.
completion of Sinai fence therefore represents an important deterrent. It is,
however, only the first step.
The government that is formed after
January’s election should act to standardize the process for recognizing and
rejecting asylum applications from the migrants. Investments should be made in
south Tel Aviv, in the areas around the central bus station, so that Israel’s
largest bus station is no longer a place that some people fear to go to; a
seemingly lawless ghetto and dumping ground for social ills and municipal
Every Western state confronts issues relating to
A future-oriented policy that seeks a long-term solution for
the 60,000 illegal residents of south Tel Aviv will result in integration or
return to their countries of origin, rather than creating a part of the city
that, as in some suburbs of Paris, seems abandoned to criminality and
The Sinai fence can rightly be pointed to as an achievement. It
illustrates Israel’s ability to accomplish major tasks relatively quickly when
there is the political will. It should help standardize the relationship with
Egypt’s new government and set in motion a peaceful time at the border. This
government should rightly be congratulated for completing it.
elections looming, politicians should put forward their plans for the next step
in dealing with terrorism from Sinai and with the undocumented migrants in